Inside Interview: Rep. Anton Gunn

One of the least low-key of the large pack of House freshmen is Richland County Representative Anton Gunn. Winning his second bid for House District 79, formerly held by Blogland favorite Bill Cotty, he has made a bit of a splash in Midlands politics. Holding a Master’s in Social Work from USC, where he played football (and looks very much like a football player), Representative Gunn makes his living as the President of Top Gunn Associates (but doesn’t look like Tom Cruise), a public affairs consulting firm.

He’s a regular Blogland reader and has been named one of the “Twitter Caucus”, regularly firing away tweets. From that, we seem to know what he’s doing on a daily basis – so much so, that sometimes we feel like a stalker. A rather outgoing guy, he’s always quick to greet whenever yours truly runs into him around Columbia, so it makes sense that he’d gladly accept an offer to do an Inside Interview.

1) You’ve been active in politics for a while as a policy advocate, and now you’re one of those who makes decisions. What are some of the more notable differences?

Making decisions? I would not call what I do in the House as decision-making. To me decision-making implies that you have definitive control over the agenda. In the House of Representatives, I am not privileged enough to dictate what happens or what issues get put on the agenda. However, I do get the opportunity to vote on issues that are put up by the leadership in the House of Representatives. So, I take my voting responsibility very seriously.

Your second question is about what’s different on this side of the policy table? I think the most notable difference between being a policy advocate and an elected member of the General Assembly is how we reach solutions. As a policy advocate I developed my position on issues by thoughtful discussion with everyone involved and I tried to develop a comprehensive solution that people on all sides could live with. In the House, I don’t get the chance to do that very much. We don’t spend much time discussing comprehensive bi-partisan solutions to common problems. Instead we develop Republican solutions or Democratic solutions, but not South Carolina Solutions. As an advocate, I didn’t get caught up in “the party’s agenda” or sticking together just because “we are in the same party”. Advocates discuss the merits of ideas and policies, it doesn’t matter which party it came from. Ideas aren’t democratic or republican, they are just ideas. They should be debated and supported as such, but in the House it’s not like that most times. There have been good ideas that have been voted down because it came from a member who was in the wrong party. Likewise there were bad ideas that were passed because they came from members who were in the right party.

I am annoyed by all the hyper-partisanship. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t think it was this bad. I think this is the main reason why we are not having success as a state. I thought we all would have understood that South Carolinians are fed up with the extreme partisanship. They want us to solve our problems together, but we don’t ever take off our “team’s jersey” and talk about issues together. We don’t sit down in meetings and break bread together to discuss the merits and ideas of our political philosophies, to come up with some consensus and principles that we can agree upon. This is what needs to be done to move forward. From there we should then strive to make good public policy. Instead, what happens is we make public policy based upon what the party or the think tank tells us to do.

2) What are some issues that aren’t getting the attention in the State House?

Wow, where do I begin? Let me start with the obvious--Job Creation. We have to address our 2nd in the nation unemployment. I don’t understand why it isn’t a top priority to pursue policy changes that would offer more incentives for small businesses to create new jobs. We also aren’t talking about our woefully inadequate infrastructure (roads, water, sewer and broadband). This infrastructure would help stimulate economic development (attracting large businesses that will bring in new jobs). I think being focused on getting our economy working again is the most important thing we can do for the citizens of our state.

Also, there is some discussion about restructuring government to make it more effective, efficient and accountable, but it’s not nearly at the level it should be. To address the long standing problems of education, health care, economic development we need to change the way our government does business. If there is any time to change how we do business in South Carolina, now is the time. Government restructuring should be higher on our agenda. I could go on and on with other issues that aren’t getting much attention, like the cost of health care, green energy, tax policies, and education reform, but I won’t go there. I could write a dissertation on the subject.

3) We were told that your family and faith are important to you. How do they influence how you approach politics?

My faith and family are what grounds me in my politics. First, my faith is the reason why I am involved in politics. God gives us all a purpose in life, that purpose is to be of service to Him. We execute that service to God through life ministries. Some people have the ministry to preach, teach, write, sing, minister, evangelize or even volunteer. I believe that my purpose in ministry is to serve in government. I believe that we need men and women of God involved our government, not to press our personal religious beliefs on others but to use our faith to be thoughtful and deliberate in our decisions because those decisions will impact His people.

We all should be willing to serve in government, just as we are willing to serve in churches, charities, even the military. So that’s my approach to politics. I take it just as seriously as I would volunteering in church, serving in the armed forces or helping in a nonprofit charitable organization. I see them as equally important. We should be mindful of how important it is for us to do the right things for people in where ever we work.

Second, my family is the lens that I can measure the effectiveness of my service in government. I have a beautiful wife who is a consummate businesswoman, mother and wife. She works very hard handling the day-to-day struggles of the real world; she doesn’t have time for politics or policy issues. She is the average Jane Q. She serves as a good sounding board on issues. I can talk with her about policy issues and she will give me “straight-talk” about how things would play out in her world. Tiffany helps me to see if things make common-sense or are they non-sense. Also, my daughter Ashley is a major influence. She is 4 years old. Every morning I get up, I think about what am I going to do today to make the world better for Ashley when she is my age? What kind of South Carolina do I want Ashley to grow up in? That’s what I think about. Then I think about, what I can do now to make our state better in her future, for all of our children’s future?

Lastly, my parents and my brother’s story influence my politics. My mother was an educator for 30 years. My father was a Naval Officer and is now a veterans’ counselor. One of my brothers, Cherone Gunn was in the United States Navy until he was killed 9 years ago in an Al-Qaeda terror attack aboard the USS Cole. Through his death and my parent’s example I have mastered the qualities of service, sacrifice and leadership. I live these qualities in my personal life. These are qualities that I bring with me into politics. These are the most important qualities, outside of faith in God, that I believe all leaders should have. So my faith and family are essential to my politics. I just think it’s so important.

4) You’re on Twitter, you read blogs – you’re very much a “new media” person. What are some of the big impacts that these technologies have had on how you do politics?

New Media is changing the way politics is being done all over America. These new mediums allow voters and others to see different sides of politics and politicians. In the past, all you learned from politicians were their stances on the issues. And you only learned it from their brochure or their media talking points. Now with New Media like Twitter and Facebook, you can see what are their interests outside of politics. Learning what people do for a living, what kind of music they like, where they shop or eat dinner gives voters and the public a 3-dementional view of the people who represent them. I think it also helps to hold people more accountable because it makes their role in government more transparent. It also allows the public to become active participants in politics. The more people actively get involved in politics the better government we will get. The more inclusive politics becomes the more effective government will be. I appreciate these new mediums because it not only has changed campaign operations, it is changing the governing process. New Media is moving politics from a process of exclusion and seclusion to a process of inclusion, transparency and accountability. That is what I love about New Media.

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